Mar 24, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Avian influenza spread quickly in the Middle East this week, with news of a poultry outbreak in the Gaza Strip two days ago followed by outbreaks in the occupied West Bank yesterday and in Jordan today. The outbreaks followed the discovery of poultry cases in Israel last week.
In the Gaza Strip, tests were run after chickens were found dead on Mar 22 at two sites, one on the south edge of the small Palestinian territory and one in the central part, according to reports from BBC News and the online edition of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Tests first confirmed the presence of the H5N1 virus in the village of Juhr al-Dik, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. Today, authorities said tests had identified the virus in chickens that died in the southern town of Rafah, AFP reported.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the virus was identified yesterday in the Jewish settlement of Beqaot on the Jordan River, according to an AFP report citing information from the Israeli agriculture ministry. A Haaretz report said dozens of turkeys were found dead on a farm there.
The newspaper said authorities began culling poultry yesterday on the four farms within 3 kilometers of the outbreak site.
Jordan, neighbor to Israel and the West Bank, announced today it had discovered the H5N1 virus in three turkeys in the northern governorate of Ajlun, according to another AFP report.
"The results of laboratory tests have shown that the birds had the H5N1 strain of bird flu," Health Minister Saeed Darwazeh was quoted as saying. "There are no suspected cases in human beings." He added that culling of poultry within 3 kilometers of the outbreak site had already begun.
Agriculture Minister Akef al-Zohbi said 22 people who live on the farm and had contact with the birds were tested for the virus, with negative results, according to AFP.
The story said the government planned to vaccinate all poultry with 5 kilometers of the affected farm, under an avian flu response plan established 6 months ago.
Israeli and Jordanian officials believe migratory birds brought avian flu to the region, according to AFP. Officials in Jordan say an estimated 5 million migratory birds fly over the Jordan Valley and the surrounding region.
In Israel, authorities have destroyed about 1.2 million birds on 13 farms since the first H5N1 outbreak was found last week, according to a Reuters report today.
In other news, the World Health Organization (WHO) said China has agreed to share up to 20 virus samples from poultry felled by avian flu, according to a Mar 22 AFP report. The samples are to be studied in WHO reference laboratories.
Julie Hall, a WHO official in Beijing, said the samples were expected to be sent within days, or weeks at most, according to the story.
The last time China supplied any poultry virus samples was in 2004, when it provided just five, the report said. Hall said China's health ministry has been sharing virus samples from human cases, but the agriculture ministry has been less cooperative in supplying poultry samples.
Hall said part of the difficulty is that Chinese scientists want to complete research on the viruses they collect and receive credit for it. The WHO and the Chinese have negotiated an agreement that will give the scientists recognition and involve them in subsequent research, she reported.
She said the WHO hopes the agreement will mark the beginning of regular sharing of virus samples from poultry.